A New Twist on Customer Relations

A New Twist on Customer Relations

Mike Armour

How do you view your relationship with your customers?

When asked that question, small business owners generally answer with statements like, "I'm the seller and they are the buyer." Or, "I'm dependent on customers for my business to make money."

And there's nothing wrong with framing the answer this way. But let me offer you a possible answer that could potentially revolutionize how you perceive and think about your business. I base this statement on personal experience.

By viewing yourself as an advocate for your customers, you gain trust and loyalty that returns lasting dividends.

What if you positioned yourself by saying, "I am an enthusiastic advocate for my customers and clients." For Startups After 50 I've made this statement on the home page of our web site. There you will find me saying that I want to be "your advocate, your encourager, and your guide."

A few years ago I would have never put the word "advocate" in that sentence. It wasn't a concept that I had entertained. To illustrate, let me borrow a phrase from Hollywood and give you the "back-story" behind Startups After 50.

Same Dream, Different Medium

Even though our website has been active for only a few months, the vision behind it dates back to 2001. I spent much of that year trying to launch a print magazine. Its purpose and audience were quite similar to those of Startups After 50 today. Even though the magazine fizzled on the launch pad, I never lost my enthusiasm for the concept behind it.

Two years ago I decided to dust off the concept and try it again. But this time I would repackage it for internet delivery through a website and an inbox magazine for subscribers. Startups After50 is the result.

As I was sketching my initial ideas for the website, I dug out the business plan and marketing copy that I had written for the failed print magazine. Nowhere in any of that language would you find the word "advocate."

Then, about a year ago, the word was suggested to me by a marketing coach who was helping me develop my new venture. (Yes, even business coaches have coaches at times.) "Advocate" was a term that she had long used to describe her relationship with people who seek her services.

Customer-Centric . . . PLUS

It was amazing how much my perspective changed once I started thinking of myself as an advocate for men and women who start a business in their 50s, 60s, and 70s — the people for whom I was developing my website and magazine.

I had always viewed myself as customer-centric, thoughtfully attuned to what best served the client's needs. But the word "advocate" intensified this sense of commitment. Just serving your needs does not make me your advocate. An advocate has a personal and emotional investment in promoting your success.

As a consequence, an advocate is much more than an encourager or cheerleader. An advocate pulls for you unequivocally. You see this principle on bold display when an attorney acts as the advocate for a client. Whether speaking to the court or the press, the attorney's singular perspective is providing an outcome that the client cherishes.

The Advocate's Perspective

Advocacy always has this kind of singular perspective. Advocacy thus implies a depth of commitment to customers and clients that is not inherent in being merely "customer focused." And I believe that customers will feel this difference, if not immediately, certainly with time.

Further, when customers sense that you are unequivocally committed to their success, they develop a deep trust in you personally and an enduring loyalty to your business. In life there is a direct correlation between trust and caring. The more we perceive someone as genuinely caring for us, the more likely we are to reciprocate with trust.

That's why advocacy builds trust. An advocate's heart is a caring heart. And people pick up on this caring spirit.

For me personally, approaching Startups After 50 with the mindset of an advocate helps me clarify "next steps" in the evolution of my business model. Every critical decision which I make about the website and the newsletter is run through the filter of advocacy.

For instance, when choosing topics for articles, I resist the temptation to write on something simply because it interests me. Interesting or not, if an article is not positioning readers for even greater outcomes, I nix the idea.

Which is one reason, I believe, that we are having an exceptional "open rate" for the magazine. The number of subscribers who open each issue is six or seven times what most email experts would predict. And it's gratifying to see how many subscribers are recommending us to friends and colleagues. Ironically, when you position yourself as an advocate for your customers or clients, they tend to become advocates for you in return.

Be careful, however, that you don't adopt the advocate's stance just to get people to advocate for you. You've then become self-serving. You've lost the true spirit of advocacy. If I may coin a phrase, advocacy is never self-serving. It is always "other-serving."

Of all the counsel that I offer in these pages, I will never propose anything that is less expensive to implement than developing an advocacy outlook. There's no reason not to try it. And if your experience parallels mine, the resulting change in outlook will give you a refreshing new perspective on the essentials of your business.

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